Yukon Education Minister Jeanie McLean maintains there has been no political interference on the investigation into the use of physical discipline and isolation at Jack Hulland Elementary School.
McLean spoke April 4 in the legislature during question period, where Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon raised the issue. Dixon highlighted a March 29 press release issued by Child and Youth Advocate Annette King that raised concerns about the government’s conduct in an investigation at the elementary school in Whitehorse.
An RCMP investigation into a use-of-force incident on Jan. 27 resulted in no charges being laid. There remains an open, ongoing police investigation into historic reports of use of force at the school and the Yukon government is holding their own review into workplace risk.
Dixon highlighted the advocate’s press release, which cites a trend in administrative staff at the school being reassigned shortly after speaking out about the situation.
“In response to this, the minister wrote a letter to the advocate that she tabled in the legislature,” Dixon said. “However, that letter completely ignores the very serious accusation of political interference.”
Before emphasizing her position that there has been no political interference, McLean argued the safety and well-being of students is a priority for the government.
“It will always remain at the centre when we are talking about any issues that arise in our schools,” she said. “We are working really hard with all of our partners to ensure that our education system supports all Yukon students.”
Dixon continued to question the minister on the issue, with McLean highlighting meetings held with the child and youth advocate; deputy ministers in Education, Justice, Health and Social Services, and the Executive Council Office and more.
She also noted investigations are ongoing and work has been done to train staff.
“I will again say that the investigation into the use of holds and physical interventions at Jack Hulland Elementary School is ongoing by the RCMP and Family and Children’s Services,” she said. “We continue to cooperate with that investigation and I have also stated that the Department of Education is reviewing all workplace risk assessments and other relevant reports and conducting staff interviews at the school. This is important work that continues.”
McLean added that Jack Hulland staff have now completed non-violent crisis intervention training, as requested from parents and the school council.
Calling for change
The mother of a former student at the school said she hopes the Department of Education will start “stepping up” and there can be a shift in how schools operate.
“We need to see more positive changes for our children,” Lyndsay Amato said in an April 5 interview as she recalled the significant challenges her son faced at school.
She pulled her son out of the school six weeks ago and has since transferred him to a half-day program specifically designed for him at another school, which Amato specified is mainly thanks to the principal at his new school.
The Grade 4 student had attended Jack Hulland from the time he was in Kindergarten until she pulled him out a few weeks ago.
Before starting school he was diagnosed with mild intellectual disability and had an educational assistant (EA) assigned to him in Kindergarten.
In that first year, he had a lot of behavioural issues which resulted in him spending time out of the classroom and difficulty playing with others, so he repeated Kindergarten.
Behavioural challenges continued in his second year and he was diagnosed with severe ADHD, anxiety and depression. A psychological education assessment determined he needs one-on-one support at school, Amato said.
As time went on, challenges continued with little support from the Department of Education, she said.
Efforts by Amato to present information on brain mapping work she felt could help the school better understand her son seemed to go largely unnoticed, she said.
EA support would be limited in the years to come; often if he had support it was because an EA had been assigned to the class as opposed to an EA being assigned to provide support specifically to him.
It wasn’t uncommon for him to be put into a hold or taken to “the nest” when he was disregulated. It would take a significant amount of time for Amato to hold him after she came to pick him up and for him to regulate after such instances. Amato describes “the nest” as a space with small cubicles where children may be placed when they’re disregulated.
After returning following the closure of schools due to COVID-19 in 2020, Amato said she was informed there would be no EA support for him.
He was later able to get some support at recess and in-school counselling to address mental health issues he was facing, but challenges have continued with little support, Amato said, noting that when he was doing well, support would “fizzle out.”
She ultimately decided to pull him out of the school.
Having worked as an EA herself, Amato noted a trauma-informed approach creates more understanding and patience in dealing with students. It requires that giving the student “space and time” and being there alongside them in cases where they are disregulated, she said.
Amato said she’s been “heartbroken” since news of the investigations at the school have come out.
She said she’s hopeful that out of all of this there will be a shift in mindset and that the Department of Education will listen to parents like herself, but also recognizes it will likely be a long process and that things likely won’t change overnight.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com